Ireland’s Simon Thornton continued his sparkling form on the second day of the money-spinning Kazakhstan Open to open up a two-shot lead over the rest of the field at the €400,000 Challenge Tour event.
Thornton, who finished in a tie for 21st place on his only previous visit to Kazakhstan two years ago, embarked on a birdie blitz on another day of high temperatures at Nurtau Golf Club, in Almaty, where he covered the front nine in just 31 shots.
The 34 year old made another gain at the tenth hole, before dropping his only shot of the day at the par three 14th hole. But Thornton finished on a high note with his seventh birdie of the day on the last to sign for a round of 66 which moved him to 11 under par, two shots clear of Norwegian rookie Knut Borsheim.
Thornton said: “I just tried to carry on doing what I did yesterday, because when you’re playing well sometimes you can start to get a little bit negative. That’s just the way the human mind works. But today I got off to a great start, starting holing some nice putts, and managed to keep the momentum going for the whole round.
“I actually missed a six-footer for birdie on the second, so I could’ve quite easily birdied my first five holes. Then I birdied the two par fives, the eighth and the tenth, which are both reachable – even for me – if you hit good drives, so if you only make a par there, you almost feel like you’re dropping a shot on the field. I don’t hit the ball a long way but you get a lot of run on the fairways out there, so that’s a big help for players like me.
“I played just as well on the back nine as I did on the front but just didn’t really hole any putts apart from the 18th, where I holed a nice one, so that was a great finish to another really pleasing day for me. The course is playing quite tough and the rough is really thick in places, so I’m absolutely thrilled to be on 11 under after two days.”
Borsheim, who is playing under a sponsor’s invitation, was equally delighted after signing for a flawless round of 65 to surge from tied 20th place overnight to second – albeit with the afternoon starters yet to complete their rounds.
The young Norwegian, who graduated from Arizona State University in America last year, has shown little in his six previous appearances on the Challenge Tour to suggest that he would play a leading role this week, with a tie for 31st place at the Acaya Open his best performance to date.
But Borsheim revealed he has been struggling with chronic fatigue, and has only recently returned to full fitness.
He said: “I just felt tired all the time. I could hardly get out of bed in the morning, and had no energy to practice or play golf. I just had to be nice to my body for a while, because I think I was probably exhausted from college, and studying, and playing a lot of golf. I’ve got another scan in October to try to find out what the problem is, but at the moment I feel absolutely fine, which is probably why I’m playing much better now.
“I feel like a round like today’s has been coming for a while now, because I’ve been playing better and better – even if my results may not have shown that. The longest par putt I had today was from about three feet, so I was never really in any trouble.
“The course suits me, because I hit it pretty straight and long, so I can take advantage of some of the par fives especially. The set-up is quite similar to some of the courses over in the States, with the thick rough, which I obviously got used to playing when I was at college over there. So I feel very comfortable out here.”
Aided by both his newly-found mental strength and a large slice of luck, Callum Macaulay moved into third place on six under par.
Macaulay credited his new mental coach and a gift from the golfing gods after signing for a second successive round of 69 for a midway aggregate total of 138.
The Scotsman flew out the blocks, opening with a birdie on the tenth hole and reaching the turn in 32.
Then after finding the middle of the fairway on the first hole his ball collected some mud, leaving Macaulay facing a dilemma.
He said: “The mud was on the left side of the ball, so the theory goes that the ball will go right – but there’s a hazard on the right, and I didn’t want to go in that. So I just kept the ball back in my stance, and tried to keep it as low as I could. I ended up skimming the ball a bit, but it was right in line with the flag, and as soon as I hit it I shouted “get in”.
“Sure enough it landed just short of the green, bounced a few times and trickled into the hole for an eagle. Sam Little fell over laughing, but I’ll certainly take a good break, because I’ve had enough bad luck in recent weeks.
“I’ve been struggling mentally as much as anything else, because I felt like I was striking the ball well enough, but just not getting anything out of my rounds. So I decided to see a mental coach back home, and I’ve definitely felt the benefit of my work with her over the last two days, because my head has been in the right place on every single shot.
“I’ve not got emotional either way, whether it be excited after a good shot, or angry after a bad one. I took a leaf out of Darren Clarke’s book, and just tried to stay as level-headed as possible. It’s early days yet, but at least I now feel I’m moving in the right direction and have got something to build on.
“I’ve not made a cut in my last six tournaments, and it’s been pretty tough. So just making the cut is a bonus, but to be going into the weekend in contention is even better.”